Vilana cake is an unusual sweet from the beautiful tiny volcanic island of La Gomera, in the Canary Islands, and is named after the ‘vilana’, or tin pot, in which it is traditionally baked. Thanks to its sub-tropical climate, La Gomera boasts fabulous produce – avocados, fresh fish, bananas, tomatoes – but the region is best known for its potato recipes, making the most of the island’s flavoursome root vegetables which arrived there shortly after the conquest of America. This simple, hearty cake incorporates mashed potato into its moist, buttery crumb, along with other key ingredients from the island: almonds, spice and dried fruit.
I’ve always been intrigued by the use of mashed potato in baking. A friend of mine makes a fabulous Middle Eastern-style potato bread, which she once made the mistake of putting out as an appetizer before a dinner party. Needless to say, it disappeared in minutes at the serious risk of all our appetites. Incredibly light and slightly moreishly spongy, it was the perfect vehicle for bowls of silky, peppery olive oil and the Egyptian seed mix dukkah. I’ve come across cake recipes using mashed potato, too, which can be used to add texture and bulk to gluten-free baking. It may sound slightly odd, but no odder than carrot cake or beetroot brownies, which are now making a regular appearance on the culinary scene.
This interesting creation from Gran Canaria is somewhere between a sweet bread and a cake. It’s made with yeast but doesn’t have to be left to rise, so the yeast acts in the same way as baking powder. It’s not too sweet, slightly scented with lemon and a little spice, peppered with tangy raisins. My favourite aspect of this recipe is the texture. Mashed potato and ground almonds give the cake a wonderful moist, slightly dense texture, buttery and almost brioche-like in aroma. Traditionally the almonds are chunkier in this recipe, but pre-ground are more convenient and help keep the cake lovely and soft. My inclusion of honey is a nod to the classic Canarian sweet, bienmesabe (literally, ‘it tastes good to me’), a paste of almonds, honey and sugar often served over ice cream. It gives the cake a beautiful soft, rich sweetness.
I like this as a substantial afternoon snack with a cup of tea or coffee, but it would also make a lovely breakfast drizzled with honey and served with a spoonful of thick Greek yoghurt.
This is a sponsored post written in collaboration with Monarch Airlines.
Vilana Cake (makes one 20x20cm cake):
- 250g floury potatoes (around 1 large one)
- 75g butter, at room temperature
- 70g golden caster sugar
- 50g runny honey, plus extra to finish
- 3 eggs
- 125g plain flour
- 100g ground almonds
- ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 tsp instant yeast, or 15g fresh yeast, crumbled
- Pinch of salt
- Zest of 2 lemons
- 80g raisins or sultanas
- 2 tbsp flaked almonds
Grease a 20x20cm cake tin and line with baking parchment.
Peel the potatoes and cut into large chunks. Bring a pan of water to the boil, then boil the potatoes until completely tender. Drain well, then mash with a potato ricer or masher. Set aside.
Pre-heat the oven to 150C.
Using an electric mixer or whisk, beat the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the honey. Beat in the eggs one at a time, adding a little of the flour between each addition to stop the mixture curdling. Beat in the mashed potato.
Fold in the rest of the flour, the almonds, nutmeg, yeast, salt, lemons and raisins until just combined.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and level the top. Sprinkle with the flaked almonds.
Bake for around 45 minutes, or until the cake is golden and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven, and brush the top of the cake with a little honey. Leave to cool before serving.